Everett’s address before the Phi Beta Kappa Society in Yale College, Essay

Excerpt:

Mr. President and Gentlemen,

It has given me peculiar satisfaction to obey your call, and appear before you on this occasion. I take a sincere pleasure, as an affectionate and dutiful child of Harvard, and as an humble member of the branch of our fraternity, which is there established, in present-ing myself, within the precincts of this ancient and distinguished sem-inary, for the discharge of the agreeable duly, which you have as- signed me. I rejoice in the confidence, which your invitation implies, that I know neither sect nor party, In the Republic of Letters; and that I enter your halls, with as much assurance of a kind reception, as I would those of my own revered and ever gracious Alma Mater. This confidence does me no more than justice. Ardently and gratefully attached to the institution, in which I received my education, I could in no way so effectually prove myself its degenerate child, as by harboring the slightest feeling of jealousy, at the expanded and growing reputation of this its distinguished rival. In no way could I so surely prove myself a tardy scholar of the School, in which I have been brought up, as by refusing to rejoice in the prosperity and usefulness of every sister institution, devoted to the same good cause; and especially of this the most eminent and efficient of her associates.

Mr. President and Gentlemen,

It has given me peculiar satisfaction to obey your call, and appear before you on this occasion. I take a sincere pleasure, as an affectionate and dutiful child of Harvard, and as an humble member of the branch of our fraternity, which is there established, in presenting myself, within the precincts of this ancient and distinguished seminary, for the discharge of the agreeable duly, which you have assigned me. I rejoice in the confidence, which your invitation implies, that I know neither sect nor party, In the Republic of Letters ; and that I enter your halls, with as much assurance of a kind reception, as I would those of my own revered and ever gracious Alma Mater. This confidence does me no more than justice. Ardently and gratefully attached to the institution, in which I received my education, I could in no way so effectually prove myself its degenerate child, as by harboring the slightest feeling of jealousy, at the expanded and growing reputation of this its distinguished rival. In no way could I so surely prove myself a tardy scholar of the School, in which I have been brought up, as by refusing to rejoice in the prosperity and usefulness of every sister institution, devoted to the same good cause ; and especially of this the most eminent and efficient of her associates.

There are recollections of former times, well calculated to form a bond of good feeling between our Universities. We cannot forget that, in the early days of Harvard, when its existence almost depended on the precarious contributions of its friends, —contributions not of munificent affluence, but of pious poverty, —not poured into the academic coffers, in splended donations, but spared from the scanty means of an infant and destitute country, and presented in their primitive form, a bushel of wheat, a cord of wood, and a string of Indian beads, —(this last, not a little to the annoyance of good old President Dunster, who, as the records of the Commissioners of the United Colonies tell us, was sorely perplexed, in sifting out from the mass of the genuine quahog and periwinkle, bits of blue glass and colored stones, feloniously intermixed, without the least respect for the purity of the Colony’s wampum),* we cannot forget that, in that day of small things, the contributions of Connecticut and New Haven,—as the two infant colonies were distinguished, —flowed as liberally to the support of Cambridge, as those of Plymouth and Massachusetts. Still less would I forget, that, of the three first generations of the Fathers of Connecticut, those, who were educated in America, received their education at Cambridge ; that the four first Presidents of Yale were graduates of Harvard ; and that of all your distinguished men in church and state for nearly a hundred years, a goodly proportion were fitted for usefulness in life within her venerable walls. If the success of the child be the joy of the parent, and the honor of the pupil be the crown of the master, with what honest satisfaction may not our Institutions reflect, that, in this early and critical state of the country’s growth, when the direction taken and the character impressed were decisive of interminable consequences, they stood to each other in this interesting relation. And while we claim the right of boasting of your character and institutions, as in some degree the fruit of a good old Massachusetts’ influence, we hope you will not have cause to feel ashamed of the auspices, under which, to a certain extent, the foundation of those institutions was laid and their early progress encouraged.

In choosing a topic, on which to address you this morning, I should feel a greater embarrassment than I do, did I not suppose, that your thoughts, like my own, would flow naturally into such a channel of reflection, as may be presumed at all times to be habitual and familiar with men of liberal education or patriotic feeling. The great utility of occasions like this and of the addresses they elicit is not to impart stores of information laboriously collected, —not to broach new systems, requiring carefully weighed arguments for their defence, or a multitude of well arranged facts for their illustration. We meet, at these literary festivals, to promote kind feeling; to impart new strength to good purposes ; to enkindle and animate the spirit of improvement, in ourselves and others. We leave our closets, our offices, and our studies, to meet and salute each other in these pleasant paths ; to prevent the diverging walks of life from wholly estranging those from each other, who were kind friends at its outset ; to pay our homage to the venerated fathers, who honor with their presence the return of these Academic festivals; and those of us, alas, who are no longer young, to make acquaintance with the ardent and ingenuous, who are following after us. The preparation for an occasion like this is in the heart not in the head; it is in the attachments formed and the feelings inspired, in the bright morning of life. Our preparation is in the classic atmosphere of the place, in the tranquillity of the academic grove, in the unoffending peace of the occasion, in the open countenance of long parted associates joyous at meeting, and in the kind and indulgent smile of the favoring throng, which bestows its animating attendance on these our humble academic exercises.

When I look around upon the assembled audience, and reflect, from how many different places of abode throughout our country the professional part of it is gathered, and in what a variety of pursuits and duties, it is there occupied ; and when I consider that this our literary festival is also honored with the presence of many from every other class of the community, all of whom have yet a common interest, in one subject at least, I feel as if the topic, on which I am to ask your attention were imperatively suggested to me. It is the nature and efficacy of Education, as the great human instrument of improving the condition of man.

Education has been, at some former periods, exclusively, and more or less, at all former periods, the training of a learned class ; the mode, in which men of letters or the members of the professions acquired that lore, which enabled them to insulate themselves from the community, and gave them the monopoly of rendering the services in church and state, which the wants or imaginations of men made necessary, and of the honors and rewards, which, by the political constitution of society, attached to their discharge.

I admit, that there was something generous and liberal in education; something popular, and, if I may so express it, republican, in the educated class;— even at the darkest period. Learning, even in its most futile and scholastic forms, was still an affair of the mind. It was not like hereditary rank, mere physical accident: it was not like military power, mere physical force. It gave an intellectual influence, derived from intellectual superiority, and it enabled some minds, even in the darkest ages of European history, to rise from obscurity and poverty, to be the lights and guides of mankind. Such was Beda, the great luminary of a dark period, a poor and studious monk, who, without birth or fortune, became the great teacher of science and letters to the age, in which he lived. Such, still more eminently, was his illustrious pupil Alcuin, who by the simple force of mental energy, employed in intellectual pursuits, raised himself from the cloister to be the teacher, companion, and friend of Charlemagne; and to whom it has been said, that France is indebted, for all the polite literature of his own and the succeeding ages.* Such, at a later period, was another poor monk, Roger Bacon, the precursor, and, for the state of the times in which he lived, scarcely the inferior, of his namesake, the immortal Chancellor.

But a few brilliant exceptions do not affect the general character of the education of former ages. It was a thing apart from the condition, the calling, the service, and the participation of the great mass of men. It was the training of a privileged class ; and was far too exclusively the instrument, by which one of the favored orders of society was enabled to exercise a tyrannical and exclusive control over the millions, which lay wrapt in ignorance and superstition. It is the great glory of the happy age, in which we live, that learning, once the instrument of this bondage, has become the instrument of reform ; that instead of an educated class, we have made some good approach to an educated community. That intellectual culture, which gave to a few the means of maintaining an ascendancy over the fears and weaknesses of their age, has now become the medium of a grand and universal mental equality, and, humanly speaking, the great concern of man. It has become the school of all the arts, the preparation for all the pursuits, the favorite’ occupation of leisure, the ornament of every age, office, vocation, and sex. In a word education is now the preparation of a very considerable portion of the mass of mankind for the duties, which in the present state of the world devolve upon them.

This single reflection shews, that education, in this country particularly, is a word of more comprehensive and deeper import than in any other. The mass of the people here perform a different office from that, which they have ever performed before. Whether this be for good or for evil is a question which may be harmlessly debated, between the friends and vilifiers of the country; but the fact, I suppose will not be disputed. It would be foreign from the purposes of this address, and superfluous in the presence of this audience, to enumerate the duties to be performed by the people, under a political constitution like ours. This topic is familiar to us all. I now only allude to it, as suggesting the corresponding scope of education, as it must be understood and applied.

Let us then dwell for a moment, on what is to be effected by education, considered in its ultimate objects and most comprehensive sense, in which, of course, is included, as the most important element, the sound and enlightened influence of deep religious principle, to be cherished and applied, through the institutions existing for that sacred purpose.

A great work is to be done. What is it, in its general outline and first principles?

To answer this question, we must remember, that of the generation now on the stage, by which the business of the country, public and private, is carried on, not an individual, speaking in general terms, will be in a state of efficient activity, and very few in existence, thirty years hence. Not merely those, by whom the government is administered and the public service performed, in its various civil and military departments, will have passed away ; but all who are doing the great, multifarious, never-ending work of social life, from the highest teacher of spiritual wisdom and the profoundest expositor of the law, to the humblest artisan, will have ceased to exist. The work is to go on; the government is to be administered, laws are to be enacted and executed, peace preserved or war levied, the will of the people to be expressed by their suffrages, and the vast system of the industrious action of a great people, in all their thousand occupations, by sea and land, to be kept up and extended ; but those now employed in all this great work are to cease from it and others are to take their places.

Like most of the great phenomena of life; —miracles, if I may so say, of daily occurrence ;—this vast change, this surcease of a whole generation, with the duties that flow from it, loses, from its familiarity, almost all power of affecting the imagination. The political revolution, which subverts one crowned family, which prostrates a king to elevate an emperor, and cements his throne with the blood of some hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the wretched victims of his ambition, is the wonder of the age j the perpetual theme of discourse; the standing topic of admiration. But this great revolution, which prostrates not one man, nor one family, in a single nation ; but every man, in every family, throughout the world ; which bids an entire new congregation of men to start into existence and action ; which fills with new incumbents, not one blood-stained seat of royalty, but every post of active duty, and every retreat of private life ; this new creation steals on us silently and gradually, like all the primordial operations of Providence, and must be made the topic of express disquisition, before its extent and magnitude are estimated, and the practical duties to be deduced from it are understood.

Such a revolution, however, is impending, —as decisive, as comprehensive, as real, as if, instead of being the gradual work of thirty years, it were to be accomplished in a day or an hour : and so much the more momentous, for the gradual nature of the process. Were the change to be effected at once, were this generation swept off and another brought forward, by one great act of creative energy, it would concern us only as speculative philanthropists, what might be the character of our successors. Whether we transmitted them a heritage honored or impaired; or whether they succeeded to it well trained to preserve and increase, or ready to waste it, would import nothing to our interests or feelings. But by the law of our nature, the generations of men are most closely interlaced with each other, and the decline of one and the accession of the other are gradual. One survives and the other anticipates its activity. Thus while, in the decline of life we are permitted to reap on the one hand, while we live, a rich reward for all that we have attempted patriotically and honestly, in public or private, for the good of our fellow men ; on the other hand, retribution rarely fails to overtake us, as individuals or communities, for the neglect of public duties, or the violation of the social trust.

We still have judgment here; that we but teach

Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return

To plague the inventor: this even handed justice

Commends the ingredients of the poisoned chalice

To our own lips.

By this law of our natures, the places which we (ill in the world are to be taken from us; we are to be dispossessed of our share in the honors and emoluments of life ; driven from our resorts of business and pleasure ; ousted from our tenements; ejected from our estates : banished from the soil we called our own, and interdicted fire and water in our native land ; and those, who ward off this destiny the longest, after holding on a little while with a convulsive grasp, making a few more efforts, exposing their thin grey hairs in another campaign or two, will gladly, of their own accord, before a great while, claim to be exempts in the service.

But this revolution connects itself with the constitution of our nature, and suggests the great principles of education, as the duty and calling of man; and why? Because it is not the work of violent hands; because it is the law of our being. It is not an outraged populace, rising in their wrath and fury to throw off the burden of centuries of oppression. Nor is it an inundation of strange barbarians, issuing nation after nation, from some remote and inexhaustible officina gentium, lashed forward to the work of destruction, by the chosen scourges of God ; although these arc the means, by which, when corruption has attained a height, beyond the reach of ordinary influences, a preparation for a great and radical revolution is made. But the revolution of which I speak, and which furnishes the principles of the great duty of education, —all comprehensive and unsparing as it is,— is to be effected, by a gentle race of beings, just stepping over the threshold of childhood ; many of them hardly crept into existence. They are to be found within the limits of our own country, of our own community, beneath our own roofs, clinging about our necks. Father, he whom you folded in your arms and carried in your bosom, whom, with unutterable anxiety, you watched through the perilous years of childhood, whom you have brought down to college, this very commencement, and are dismissing from beneath your paternal guard, with tearful eyes and an aching heart, it is he, who is destined, (if your ardent prayers are heard), to out thunder you at the forum and in the Senate House. Fond mother, the future rival of your not yet fading charms, the matre pulcra fdict pulcrior, is the rose bud, which is beginning to open and blush by your side. Destined to supersede us in all we hold dear, they are the objects of our tenderest cares. Soon to outnumber us, we spare no pains to protect and rear them ; and the strongest instinct of our hearts urges us, by every device and appliance, to bring forward those, who are to fill our places, possess our fortunes, wear our honors, snatch the laurel from our heads, the words from our lips, the truncheon of command from our hands, and at last gently crowd us, worn out and useless, from the scene.

Source Citation:

Everett, Edward. 1833. An address delivered before the Phi beta kappa society in Yale college. New Haven: H. Howe & Co. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009577889

Cite this page:

Everett, Edward. 1833. "Everett’s address before the Phi Beta Kappa Society in Yale College, Essay." History of Higher Education. https://higheredhistory.gmu.edu/primary-sources/an-address-delivered-before-the-phi-beta-kappa-society-in-yale-college/